My trip began well before arriving to Budapest, during the planning stages. The timing could not have been better, heading there for my birthday at the end of February. This would be a 3 day trip on a budget, yet not being cheap.
Of all the hotels, hostels and accommodations we considered, the one with the best value for the money was the Mercure Hotel. The location was perfect, right in the heart of downtown. After all, we were only a couple blocks from the river and had all the shopping we could handle.
What really made this a perfect deal was that they had an off-season rate for guests staying 3 nights or more or 30% off as well as two free entry passes to one of the local bath spa's. That alone was a $50 value. After all was said and done, the two of us were spending $60 total per night and had the baths included in our stay. This was an excellent value, as all of the hostels would cost about the same, but without the luxury of the Mercure.
Nothing makes souvenir shopping bearable like lots of local beer and market grub. In Budapest, you have one excellent place right near town where you can find the perfect combination of shopping, drinking and eating, and it's called the Central Market Hall, 1093 Budapest, Vámház körút 1-3.
That is where you go for proper Hungarian food which won't empty your pockets. Local brews, Hungarian sausages, proper Hungarian Lángos and yes, even goulash.
We actually spent the better part of the day eating, drinking and shopping at the Central Market Hall. Check out this sweet 360 Panorama from the Central Market in Budapest.
In my less than humble opinion, the shopping was better than you will find in the many storefront shops along the pedestrian road a few blocks away. The items for sale included paprika, handicrafts and art, made, presumably, by local artisans. Not a tea towels went unseen as we perused through the isles of the Budapest Central Market.
After about 6 hours of eating and drinking, we decided it was time to head out and see more of the city. What better place to see the city than from the inside of the For Sale Pub & Restaurant, conveniently located across the street from the market. This is the kind of place where you can tuck in to a few black beers, eat some complimentary peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. That's right, just like home.
We did eat and rink a lot while in Budapest, partly because it was my birthday and partly as they have an excellent beer culture. Well, mostly it was because of my birthday.
I don't remember how much we spent that night, nor do I care to remember, but I know it was a ball. The food was as fried as it was tasty and I couldn't have asked for anything more.
The other restaurant of note was the Columbus Pub Jazz boat. The Columbus Pub has music seven nights per week, which was the main reason we went. On the boat, the view was better, as it sits on the Danube river, looking onto the well lit side known as Buda. This perspective of Buda made for a nice introduction for the following day, which would have us walking throughout that space.
We found that in the time of about a half a day, we were able to walk around the better part of the city. Sights which we perused past included the Tree of Life, Parliament Building, St. Stephen's Basilica, and Ronald Reagan. Yes, that's right, Ronald Reagan will live on forever i the hearts and minds of the Hungarian people as a man who helped end the cold war and support the country in its time of hardship. All that from a 1950's B-Actor. Good luck topping that, Angelina.
Budapest turned out to be an excellent place to spend the weekend and learn about central Europe. The history, cuisine and self guided walking tour in the snow made this one of the best birthdays ever.
Naturally, if you are heading to central Europe, there are many other things to do in Budapest, which include the more well known locations. Whatever you decide, have fun doing it, and get a guidebook. It will be a huge help.
My personal pick for anywhere in Europe is Rick Steve, and Rick Steves' Budapest. To tell the truth, I was never a fan of Rick, that was until I started listening to the podcast of his weekly radio show. It was this show which tipped me onto a couple things in Budapest and Central Europe that I would have never found on my own. Thanks Rick!